Thursday, March 22, 2012

Emotional "Sex": How Far is Too Far?

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

How far is too far?  I'm sure it's no surprise to hear that I get asked this question all the time from well-meaning young adults, looking to set up some boundaries in their physical relationships.

But I'm not going to answer that question today.   

Don't get me wrong, as a professional counselor and as a woman who has gone through the world of dating, I think this question is really important and is one that requires some serious thought and consideration.  It's important to put mental time and energy in questions like this and to set your limits within a dating relationship.

But is the physical really the most important thing?  It seems to me that our Christian society can get so fixated on the "physical" aspects of intimacy, that we neglect the emotional and spiritual components that can be just as binding and just as devastating in the end. 

There is some deep power in emotional intimacy, more power than we give it credit.  More powerful than a kiss, more seductive than an embrace, there is something that happens when two people connect emotionally.  Something that has the capacity to outweigh even the physical.  A sort of "emotional sex" that can be just as harmful and heartbreaking, when it moves too deep, too fast. 

I could write an entire chapter on this topic (actually, I'm working on one right now for my upcoming book!) but for now, I'm going to keep it simple.  I want to point out a few things to consider in order to avoid the pain of emotional bonding in a relationship...a relationship that may never translate into marriage:

1.  Play together....don't Pray together:  This might sound silly, but to be honest I know of so many couples who started their relationship by investing time in deep spiritual prayer together and seeking God's will with one another.  While this sounds well and my opinion, it's actually a really dangerous road to travel at such early stages in a relationship.

Seeking the heart of God and pouring out your heart and soul to Him through prayer is one of the most emotionally vulnerable places you will ever be.  It's good to pray about your relationship and to seek God's voice...but don't seek it together. Seek God as an individual...don't allow your relationship with Him to become a trio prematurely.  There will be a day for that "holy trinity" of relationship...but it's not during dating. 

Your dating relationship in it's early stages is meant to be a time of getting to know each other, and learning all the superficial things you can know before taking it to the next level. Use this season for just that!  Don't go too deep too fast, because the emotional intimacy that comes with deep shared moments like this can actually pull you in far deeper than you were ever meant to go, and in the end, leave you with a broken heart...and a broken spirit.

2.  Know when to be Open...and then know when to Close: I think the period of dating is such a special one.  It's a time to really get to know someone and invest in who they are.  It's a time to let your guard down a little at a time and begin to share the truths of who you are.

But that's the key word.  A  When you enter into relationship, you should be at a point in your life where you are ready to be open, ready to share, and ready to communicate.  But there should always be limits to this kind of openness.  There are times to be open and share your heart...but, there are also times to withhold.

I don't recommend sitting down at your first date and spilling every detail and secret in your life.  Relationships should be seen as a journey of building trust.  You build a little at a time.  You give a little at a time.  Lay the foundations...then begin building the house.  I'll tell you what DOESN'T help this process....late night conversations.  You know what I'm talking about.  The 3am talks when there is absolutely no filter, and you find yourself sharing and revealing far more than you ever intended on.  Be real, be genuine, and be honest...but never without the anchor of boundaries and the weight of wisdom.

3.  Avoid talking about commitment, before you've actually committed:  There is such a temptation to talk about the future when you're dating.  You want to dream together, to envision the future together, and to create this world up ahead to live for.  I think there is a time and place for this kind of discussion.  Later on in a relationship it's important to be on the same page and to have a similar outlook on what is to come relationally.

But let's be honest...that conversation should not be happening early on in a dating relationship.  It's a problem when people commit to things far beyond the place they are at relationally.  It's a problem when you commit to the future, before you've actually committed to the present.

Take your time, allow your relationship to go through the necessary seasons before you allow your conversation to jump ahead.  Because where your conversation goes...your heart will go, too.

We always hear Christians talk about "guarding your heart".  It's become so cliche that I'm afraid that phrase may have actually lost it's significance.  God knows how fragile our hearts can be, and he begs us to take the time to protect them, to watch over them, and to take care of them.  But guarding your heart does not come in the form of some magical process or spiritual is practical, every day decisions. 

Guard your heart...because out of it, flows your entire life.  That's legit.